It’s been a rough couple of years for the Buffalo Sabres and their fans. It’s going to get worse.
The struggling Sabres have committed to rebuilding through youth and NHL draft picks. The overhaul began in earnest Wednesday when Buffalo traded captain Jason Pominville to Minnesota for two prospects and a pair of picks.
Sabres owner Terry Pegula had a three-year plan to win the Stanley Cup when he purchased the team in February 2011, but the dismantling of the roster has put thorns through that rosy outlook.
“It is going to involve rolling back a little bit organizationally,” General Manager Darcy Regier said in First Niagara Center. “It’s really difficult to put an exact timeline on it. Obviously, you want it to be as short as possible, but you’re going to have to accumulate the players, develop the players.
“It’s difficult standing here right now to say it’s going to be a year or two years. We’re going to work as hard as we can at this and get it done as quickly as possible.”
The Sabres began selling veterans over the weekend when they shipped out defensemen Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr. Buffalo accumulated six draft picks in the three deals: a first-round selection this June; four second-rounders (one this year, two in 2014 and one in 2015); and a conditional fifth-round pick this year.
“It will provide us with an opportunity to stock the shelves pretty well,” said Regier, who conceded not every player selected will be successful, possibly extending the rebuilding time. “I’m not going to use the ‘R’ word, but it allows us to continue to draft and develop players and build the organization.
“There’s very few organizations that haven’t had to endure some pain in order to win.”
The loss of Pominville will be felt immediately. Not only do the Sabres lose a popular leader who was fourth on the team in scoring, but neither prospect acquired in the deal – Swedish forward Johan Larsson, 20, and Canadian goaltender Matthew Hackett, 23 – will play for Buffalo. They have been sent to the minor-league club in Rochester.
“It’s not fun being where we are,” said Regier, whose team entered Wednesday’s schedule 25th in the 30-team league. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan or you’re in my position, there’s no enjoyment out of it. But there is an opportunity. What we’re going to do is seize on the opportunity.”
More well-known, established players are expected to depart. Leading scorer Thomas Vanek, who does not want to be part of a lengthy rebuild, and goalie Ryan Miller have one year left on their contracts. That makes them prime trade targets.
“It will continue after the season,” Regier said of the revamping. “To what extent has yet to be determined.”
Regier said he had no plans to trade Pominville until Tuesday night. Minnesota initially inquired about the right winger three weeks ago, but talks evaporated quickly.
Pominville had a modified no-trade clause, and he could provide a list of eight teams to which he could not be traded. Regier asked him for the list earlier this week just in case a team called prior to Wednesday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
“Jason Pominville may have been at the bottom of the list of players that I wanted to move,” said Regier, who phoned Pominville with the news before filing the trade with the league. “I felt bad because when I’d asked him for the list there was nothing going on. Within a few days, he’s been traded. I took him through that and just thanked him for everything.”
Pominville spent 11 years in the Sabres organization, including the last two as captain. He played 578 games for Buffalo, recording 185 goals, 271 assists and 456 points.
“Everything he represents as a player you can multiply by a big number as a person,” Regier said. “Extremely grateful for everything he’s done and wish him only the best.”
Larsson and Hackett were preparing to take part in the Wild’s morning skate prior to facing the San Jose Sharks when the trade was finalized.
“It’s been kind of a weird day,” Larsson said by phone. “We’re in San Jose right now, and I just stepped on the ice and they took me off, then we go from there.”
The 5-foot-10, 200-pounder can play center and wing. He was the captain of the Sweden’s world junior team and won a gold medal.
“I’m kind of an all-around player, play hard, work hard, play physical and make some plays,” said Larsson, who appeared in one NHL game. “I didn’t know so much about Buffalo, but I’m really excited to come there and play. I hear they have a good crowd.”
It’s a crowd accustomed to lean times and and should expect them to get leaner.
“If you don’t have a foundation of players with which to add free agents to, you’re not likely to be successful, and we weren’t,” Regier said. “It didn’t work, so we did make a shift.”